A man lives in a field near our house. He’s not officially supposed to be there but I know he lives there because I’ve seen him first thing in the morning and last thing at night when walking my dog.
He’s lived there for years. For as long as I can remember. When he first moved in someone quickly dobbed him into the council and they tried to re-home him in a nice clean council house. After all, people in a civilised country like ours don’t live in fields – do they?
It didn’t really work. After a few weeks his time spent in the field was getting more and more, way beyond the 10 pm curfew he was supposed to stick to, so as to keep his house.
People say he’s simple. And you might think so too when you first meet him. His thick Northern Irish accent delivered at machine gun speed with little time or thought for the sensibility of his audience wouldn’t impress a BBC newsreader at all. Picked up on the tinker site they say, along with his love of ponies and the wide grass roadside strip.
But he’s not simple at all. Oh, far from it. You see for a man who wants to live in a field he doesn’t own, and not be disturbed by anyone, he’s very smart. He chose his field very carefully. Maybe it was a happy accident but the 24 metre by 60 metre strip runs alongside the big intercity trunk road they built around here about 20 years ago, and this particular strip was purchased as part of the construction and the ownership was never properly reassigned after the road was built. I know this because he told me. Apparently there are strips of land all over the country like this, he said.
First the highway authority’s lawyers tried to get him out. But they couldn’t figure it. Then the council put their team of lawyers onto it. Even the original road builder got their man onto it at one point. Finally all the lawyers got together in a room to try and figure out a way to move him on (God knows what that cost?) but try as they might they couldn’t figure out who owned the plot at the end of the day. After a time, one by one, they lost interest. That was 15 years ago and he’s still there.
You might think a man who lives in field wouldn’t have any friends. And if you asked him he’d probably say he hasn’t, and doesn’t want any either. But it’s odd. For a man who lives in a field and doesn’t want any friends, he does have them. They might not admit it and they might not talk about him at their fancy dinner parties (or maybe they might), but they certainly do look after him and make his life in the field possible.
Like the lady from the council who tried to re-home him in the first place and then when she failed officially she unofficially went on to guide him through the benefits maze to get a bit of money to feed his ponies. Or Mike the mechanic who comes out to the field laden down with all his tools to fix the van. Or the local dentist who notifies him via text for his check-ups, because the Royal Mail doesn’t deliver to people who live in fields.
Why do they do it though? I mean, they really don’t have to. No one makes them or asked them even. I used to wonder that. Then one day I was in the council office and I met the lady who helped him. Said I lived next door to the guy who lives in the field. For a moment her shield of officialdom melted, so I asked her why she helped him. “It made me feel good. I could actually make a difference to his life”. She said.
Truth is they don’t really do it for him, they do it for them. Because it makes them feel good. Call it the milk of human kindness if you like. Nothing wrong with that you might say, and you’d be right. Anyway the man who lives in the field doesn’t really care. He’s happy to have the help, but he doesn’t feel the need to return the favour. You see, he’s smart like that.
Words by David Howlett
Picture by Maria Kruglyak